Vegans don’t consume any products that come from an animal-based source or animal protein. All macronutrients like protein, carbohydrates, and fat are only consumed through plant-based sources—which can make it challenging to get enough protein.
A common question many vegans are asked is, “How do you get enough protein?” Contrary to popular belief, it is possible to get adequate amounts of protein on a vegan diet. But first, let’s look at the desired amount of protein that individuals need to be consuming on a daily basis.
According to the DRI (Dietary Reference Intake), from the Institute of Medicine of The National Academies Press, the average adult needs to consume 0.36 g of protein per pound (or 0.8 g of protein per kilogram) of body weight, per day. The United States Department of Agriculture provides a DRI calculator that will give you a specific protein requirement based on your gender, age, height, weight, and activity level. You may be surprised that your protein requirements are not as high as you think! Protein has become king in the nutrition world and, more often than not, people consume far more than their bodies need. Since your body is unique, determine your individual protein requirement and go from there.
The other important thing to note about plant-based protein sources is that they are more bioavailable to the body. This means that the amino acids (which make up the plant-based proteins) are more easily broken down and absorbed by the body. Remember, you aren’t only what you eat, but you are what you absorb! If your body can’t absorb the protein you’re eating, it is useless.
If you’re a vegan or are interested in following a plant-based diet, these foods pack a plant-based protein punch!
Spirulina is a blue-green algae that contains the essential amino acids required for protein assimilation. It’s rich in chlorophyll, which you can see by the dark green color. The flavor takes some getting used to, but it’s a nutrient-packed, vegan-friendly option. It tastes best as an add-in to smoothies that include citrus or fruits like mango, peaches, or pineapple.
These edible pulses are a powerhouse of protein, fiber, and iron. Lentils are an easy way to get plant-based protein because they are easily digested and are a versatile ingredient. You can mix them cold into salads, add to soups/stews, include them in veggie burgers, or use them instead of beef in homemade “meat” sauce.
3. Pea Protein
Green peas contain adequate levels of protein in their raw form (9 g per 1/4 cup), and pea protein is a popular alternative to the whey protein or egg-white protein that are commonly used in protein powders. Pea protein is completely vegan and can be used in smoothies or simply mixed with a vegan nut milk for added daily protein. It’s virtually tasteless, so it is a great option for vegans looking to up their protein intake.
Chickpeas, also known as garbanzo beans, are meaty and filling. You will feel satisfied including chickpeas in your vegan diet because they are loaded with chickpea protein and fiber. Chickpeas can be used to make hummus, added to soups/stews, and roasted in the oven for a crispy and crunchy snack!
5. Nutritional Yeast
Nutritional yeast, a food additive grown on molasses and treated to be “inactive” (as compared to “active” baking yeast), is known for adding a “cheesy” flavor to many dairy-free recipes. The flavor is amazing, but its nutrient profile is even better! It’s loaded with amino acids and B vitamins. Amino acids are essential for protein synthesis and B vitamins help covert the food you eat into useable fuel for the body. Nutritional yeast is commonly used as a base for making dairy-free cheese sauces, or mixed into pasta for a parmesan-like flavor. It’s nutty and gives you that cheesy flavor you may be missing if you’re following a vegan diet.
Did you know that quinoa is a seed? Although it mimics a grain-based texture and cooks similar to rice, it is 100 percent seed. And that means it has more protein than many grains! Quinoa is great for cold salads, warm preparation, added into soups, or even making a breakfast “oatmeal.” It takes on any flavor that it’s mixed with so it’s the perfect base for any recipe.
Almonds are a common snack food and have increased in popularity among those following a grain-free diet. Many recipes use almond flour as an alternative to traditional baking flours. You can enjoy almonds by the handful, make a DIY trail mix, eat almond butter, incorporate almond flour into your baked goods, or make your own almond milk. A study showed that eating 1.5 ounces of almonds per day can lower your cholesterol, keep your heart healthy, and even reduce belly fat!
8. Chia Seeds
In addition to their protein benefit, chia seeds are loaded with so much fiber they can actually absorb 10 to 12 times their size in water. This allows them to create a gel-like consistency and expand in your stomach, which keeps you fuller longer and improves digestive health. Chia seeds are extremely versatile. You can make chia pudding, use the seeds as an egg replacer in your baked goods, add to smoothies, or you can even make your own protein balls using chia seeds.
9. Pumpkin Seeds
Pumpkin seeds are not only protein rich, but rich in magnesium as well. Magnesium is helpful for regulating blood sugar levels so eating pumpkin seeds is helpful for reducing your risk of type 2 diabetes. Pumpkin seeds can be eaten by the handful, sprinkled on salad, mixed into quinoa/grain dishes, or even blended into smoothies for a plant-based protein boost.
10. Steel-Cut Oats
Oats contain not only protein, but also fiber and iron. It’s important to purchase steel-cut oats, as they are higher in protein than processed oats. Steel-cut oats take longer to cook and have a more dense texture. And if you include some pumpkin seeds, chia seeds, and almonds in your oatmeal bowl, you’ll have a high protein breakfast that’s completely vegan and full of plant-based products and high-quality sources of protein.
There are plenty of vegan foods that contain protein. The important thing to remember when eating a vegan diet is to consume a wide-variety of different foods and colors. This will ensure you are getting all the necessary macronutrients (like protein) that are needed to sustain your body. Kick that lack-of-protein fear to the curb, because there is an abundance of bioavailable and high-quality protein in plant-based foods.
*Editor’s Note: The information in this article is intended for your educational use only; does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Chopra Center's Mind-Body Medical Group; and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health providers with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition and before undertaking any diet, supplement, fitness, or other health program.
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